Reaction to Successful Flight of Commercial Cargo Space Craft to Space Station

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Publication date: 
30 May 2012
Number: 
76

Last  Friday’s successful docking of the Dragon capsule developed by SpaceX to the  international space station was hailed by both the Obama Administration and  Members of Congress.  Docking occurred 250  miles above Earth, permitting the transfer of 1,014 pounds of cargo to the  station.  Of note, the capsule will  return to Earth tomorrow with 1,367 pounds of scientific experiments, hardware,  and other cargo, landing in the ocean several hundred miles west of  California.  Up until now, only the Russian  Soyuz vehicle was able to return to Earth.

The  proposal to use private companies to provide transportation of cargo and  eventually crew to the space station has been controversial, and follows a  decision made by President George W. Bush in 2004 to retire the space  shuttle.  In April 2010, President Barack  Obama spoke of the use of private craft in an address at the Kennedy Space  Center:

“And  we will extend the life of the International Space Station likely by more than  five years, while actually using it for its intended purpose: conducting  advanced research that can help improve the daily lives of people here on  Earth, as well as testing and improving upon our capabilities in space. This  includes technologies like more efficient life support systems that will help  reduce the cost of future missions. And in order to reach the space station, we  will work with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting  to space easier and more affordable.”

“Now,  I recognize that some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the  private sector in this way. I disagree. The truth is, NASA has always relied on  private industry to help design and build the vehicles that carry astronauts to  space, from the Mercury capsule that carried John Glenn into orbit nearly 50  years ago, to the space shuttle Discovery currently orbiting overhead. By  buying the services of space transportation - rather than the vehicles  themselves - we can continue to ensure rigorous safety standards are met. But  we will also accelerate the pace of innovations as companies - from young  startups to established leaders - compete to design and build and launch new means  of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere.”

Reaction  to the SpaceX mission has been positive.   After the May 25 docking, Office of Science and Technology Policy  Director John Holdren stated:

“For  the first time, a private American company has successfully launched a  spacecraft into orbit and berthed it with the International Space Station--an  achievement of historic scientific and technological significance and a key  milestone in President Obama's vision for America's continued leadership in  space.

“That  is exactly what the President had in mind when he laid out a fresh course for  NASA to explore new scientific frontiers and take Americans even deeper into  our solar system while relying on private-sector innovators--working in the  competitive free market--to ferry astronauts and cargo to low Earth orbit and  the International Space Station. It's essential we maintain such competition  and fully support this burgeoning and capable industry to get U.S. astronauts  back on American launch vehicles as soon as possible.

“I  could not be prouder of our scientists and engineers - both government and  private sector employees - who have contributed to this historic mission. A  passion for discovery and a sense for adventure have always driven this nation  forward, and I join all Americans in watching what future possibilities are  enabled by today's great achievement."

NASA  Administrator Charles Bolden praised the mission following the docking of the  capsule:

“Today  marks another critical step in the future of American spaceflight.  Now that a U.S. company has proven its  ability to resupply the space station, it opens a new frontier for commercial  opportunities in space -- and new job creation opportunities right here in the  U.S. By handing off space station transportation to the private sector, NASA is  freed up to carry out the really hard work of sending astronauts farther into  the solar system than ever before. The Obama Administration has set us on an  ambitious path forward and the NASA and SpaceX teams are proving they are up to  the task."

After  the May 22 launch, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) remarked:

“I  was pleased to see the successful launch of the Falcon 9 and the Dragon  spacecraft this morning. This launch has been a long time coming, and I am  happy to see this very challenging mission begin. There are many crucial  milestones to be reached and capabilities to be demonstrated during this  flight, all of which we hope leads to a demonstrated ability to provide cargo  service to the International Space Station.   Reliable cargo delivery is critical to fully utilizing this magnificent  National Laboratory capability, in which we have invested so much as a nation  and as a partnership."

Also  commenting on the day of the launch was House Science, Space, and Technology  Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX):

“I  would like to congratulate SpaceX on its successful launch.  This was a momentous launch, and I am hopeful  that the Dragon spacecraft will successfully complete its mission to supply  cargo to the International Space Station and safely return to Earth. The  unmanned launch, which took place early this morning out of Cape Canaveral,  Florida, is the first of its kind.  This  is a complex mission, and if successful, will be a giant step forward in  commercial cargo capability to the International Space Station.              I  have long supported the development of commercial cargo spaceflight, and while  we still have a long way to go before American astronauts can fly aboard a  commercial spacecraft, I hope SpaceX can build upon this success.  I will continue to support those who can  access the International Space Station, and want to keep the door open for our  future successes.”

House  Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson  (D-TX) also praised the mission on Friday:

“If  the promise of the International Space Station (ISS) is to be achieved, it is  essential that a reliable and cost-effective means to transport cargo to the  ISS be available.  Today’s successful  berthing of SpaceX’ s Dragon capsule to the ISS is an important step on the  path to demonstrating operational commercial cargo transport support for the  ISS.   I want to congratulate NASA and  SpaceX and their dedicated and talented employees on this significant  accomplishment.   I wish SpaceX and NASA  continued success with this cargo demonstration flight and look forward to the  successful return of the unmanned Dragon capsule.  I also look forward to Orbital’s own upcoming  demonstration flight.”

Also  commenting was Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Costello:

“Congratulations  to both SpaceX and NASA for showing that American ingenuity and innovation are  very much alive.  The ISS is a unique  platform that will help us do the research necessary to enable the next steps  in space exploration as well as benefit life here on Earth. But in order to use  the ISS, we need reliable cargo transportation to bring supplies and return  research samples.  Today’s milestone by  SpaceX and NASA gives me confidence that such a capability is achievable.”  

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